Loose Lab-Grown Diamonds: The Complete Buying Guide
Last Updated on May 9, 2023 by LabGrownCarats
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Buying loose lab-grown diamonds and finding the perfect stone can be difficult. But learn how to find the perfect lab-grown diamond and how to save in our guide to buying loose lab-grown diamonds.
In this buyer’s guide to loose lab-grown diamonds, we’ll cover all you need to know. From understanding the differences between lab-grown diamonds and mined diamonds to exploring how diamonds are created in a laboratory. And most importantly, we’ll guide you to choose the perfect loose lab-grown diamond, tailored specifically to your needs and how to save on lab-grown loose diamonds.
As experts in lab-grown diamonds, we’ll provide recommendations for buying loose lab-grown diamonds, helping you make a confident and sustainable diamond purchase. So, let’s embark on this sparkling journey and discover the brilliance (and affordability) of lab-grown diamonds!
- Difference between lab-grown diamonds vs. mined diamonds
- How are lab-grown diamonds made?
- How to buy a loose lab-grown diamond?
- How much should a 1-carat lab-grown diamond cost?
- Are lab-grown diamonds worthless?
- Our recommendations for buying loose lab-grown diamonds
- Summary of tips for buying loose lab-grown diamonds
Difference between lab-grown diamonds vs. mined diamonds
A lab-grown diamond is a diamond formed in a laboratory environment by scientists. Scientists can use less workforce and fossil fuels, and reduce the number of hands your diamond goes through.
Lab-grown diamonds are more ethical than diamonds that have been mined out of the earth’s crust. You should beware that not every lab diamond produced is 100% sustainable, but even when not, they are, on average, produced in a much more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly way. In addition, the production of lab-grown diamonds also avoids the negative impact on local environments and mining countries that mining has been associated with.
Though the interest in lab-grown diamonds has skyrocketed in the last ten years, they still get a bad reputation in some circles. Early on, lab-created diamonds were called “synthetic diamonds”. In the same way, mined diamonds are often called natural diamonds.
Using words like “natural” and “synthetic” makes people think “real” and “fake”. Because of that, lab-created diamonds are often associated with “fake diamonds” like cubic zirconia or Swarovski crystals.
Following FTC guidance, the diamond industry has dropped calling lab-created gemstones “synthetic” – but this hasn’t been translated throughout every jewelry company or seller on the internet.
Why? As you can read in our Lightbox Jewelry review or our piece on the future of lab-grown diamonds, established diamond sellers and manufacturers make more money on mined diamonds and thus want to keep their cozy old and highly profitable business.
You should know that lab-grown diamonds are just as real as mined diamonds. Diamonds created in a clean and safe laboratory have all of the same physical properties, chemical structure, and optical effects as a diamond that has formed in the ground over billions of years.
How they became a diamond may differ, but everything else is the same. They just have different ways of becoming a diamond. And, of course, lab diamonds are:
- Lab-grown diamonds are much more affordable than mined
- Lab-grown diamonds are better for the environment
- Lab-grown diamonds carry no ethical implications
How are lab-grown diamonds made?
Mined diamonds are formed deep in the earth at extreme temperatures and under high pressures. They start as pure carbon atoms, and with the right cocktail of heat and pressure, the carbon atoms crystallize into a diamond.
There are two main processes the industry uses to make lab diamonds. The HPHT process basically simulates precisely what happens to natural diamonds. They take a tiny piece of another crystallized diamond called a diamond “seed” and put it into a lab environment.
The diamond seed is subjected to the same levels of heat and pressure that it takes to make a diamond crystallize in the earth. In the same way, those conditions replicated on the diamond seed in the lab cause it to crystallize. This is known as the high-pressure, high-temperature method.
The other process is called the CVD method, which stands for chemical vapor deposition. This process of growing diamonds also uses a diamond seed. The diamond seed is put into a vacuum chamber.
Scientists fill the vacuum chamber with carbon-rich gasses and then heat the chamber to extreme temperatures. The heat causes the gas to form a plasma that settles around the diamond seed until all that’s left is pure carbon. The carbon then crystallizes into a diamond crystal growth.
Neither process is better than the other, though you’ll hear different arguments for both sides. Not every retailer will tell you which method was used to create your loose lab-grown diamond because both the HPHT diamond and CVD diamonds can produce high-quality lab-grown diamonds.
How to buy a loose lab-grown diamond?
You already know that the main differences between lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds are price and impact on the environment, and ethical considerations. However, apart from the benefits of lab diamonds, they are the same. That statement is also true when grading lab diamonds according to the 4Cs of diamond quality.
The 4Cs is a worldwide recognized grading system established by the Gemological Institute of America established in the 1940s. While there are a lot of factors that go into the quality of the diamond, there are four pillars that affect price and value the most:
By choosing a loose lab-grown diamond instead of a mined diamond, some additional tips and benefits will help you choose a high-quality diamond at a much lower price.
Lab diamond cut
There’s no difference in cut quality whether you’re choosing mined or lab-grown diamonds. The cut of a diamond has less to do with the diamond itself and more about its shape, measurements, and light performance.
A diamond’s cut quality is how the diamond has been faceted by the diamond cutter. Diamonds that have been cut poorly result in a dull appearance. Diamonds with ideal or excellent cut quality have been optimized for ultimate sparkle and fire. If you’re looking for a brilliant-cut diamond, you should focus on the diamond cut and always choose the very best!
Determining a diamond’s cut quality is probably the most challenging yet important aspect of choosing a diamond. Aside from the light performance, the cut quality of your diamond can impact its durability as well.
There are different measurements and proportions for each diamond shape that make it a high-quality cut. For round diamonds, you can usually choose ones with “Ideal Cut” or “Excellent Cut” to get the best-cut diamonds of the bunch.
The official cut grades for round diamonds are
- Excellent Cut or Ideal Cut (depending on whether GIA or IGI grades it)
- Very Good Cut
- Good Cut
- Fair Cut
- Poor Cut
Note that while “Very Good” sounds like it’s very good, in reality, it’s not. At least when you’re looking at brilliant cut diamonds such as round brilliant, oval, or heart-shaped lab diamonds. Only choose Excellent or Ideal!
However, this only works if you’re shopping from a retailer that allows you to choose from a pool of lab-grown diamonds instead of just a couple of pre-set engagement rings. This is usually done online because online retailers don’t have to pay for in-store inventory to display diamonds on their websites. See which we think are the best places to buy lab diamonds online!
Fancy diamond shapes don’t have official cut grades on a report but may be classified as if they do. A fancy shape is any other diamond shape besides a round diamond. Each shape has its own ideal proportions and measurement ranges you should stick between when choosing.
If you’re buying a round lab diamond, you should always, always pick top cut grade. We recommend this because round diamonds are both the most expensive diamond shape because they are the only diamond shape with exact proportions and symmetry to maximize brilliance!
Diamond shapes can also be categorized into brilliant-cut and non-brilliant. Brilliant-cut fancy shapes are those that mimic the facets of a round brilliant-cut diamond but have other shapes. Examples include heart-shaped or oval-shaped diamonds.
Learn more about lab-grown diamond cut and lab-grown diamond shapes.
A diamond’s clarity grade is measured by how prominent the natural inclusions in a diamond are. When forming, diamonds have little bits of impurities that enter the crystal. Inclusions range in size, color, and type. Other inclusions called blemishes can happen during the cutting process.
Even diamonds grown in a lab will have inclusions. While the laboratory setting is cleaner and much more controlled than what happens in nature, it’s impossible to completely control the diamond growing process.
More inclusions tend to be present in natural rough diamonds vs. lab-grown rough diamonds. That’s because diamonds growing deep in the earth come into contact with other minerals that cause inclusions.
That doesn’t mean that lab-grown diamonds don’t have inclusions because they do. However, the types of inclusions found in lab-grown diamonds are limited because no other mineral is growing near them.
That’s why you’ll find fewer dark mineral inclusions in a handful of loose lab-grown diamonds than with a handful of mined diamonds. Lab-grown diamonds are known for getting needle-like graphite inclusions and clouds and graining during the cutting process. So be aware of those! You can spot them in HD diamond images, and often, they are listed on the diamond certificate, too.
For the most part, inclusions impact the visibility of your diamond, though certain inclusion types can raise the risk of the diamond breaking if accidentally bumped or dropped hard enough. If you can physically feel the inclusions when running your thumb over your diamond, that is not a good diamond. Generally, you want to ensure the diamond is “eye-clean”. That means that they are not visible when not magnified. And, when magnified, they should be very slight.
The GIA’s official clarity scale sets diamonds in six different tiers:
- Flawless (F)
- Internally Flawless (IF)
- Very Very Slightly Included (VVS1, VVS2)
- Very Slightly Included (VS1, VS2)
- Slightly Included (SI1, SI2)
- Included (I1, I2, I3)
When choosing a clarity grade for your loose lab-grown diamond, it’s not necessary to buy a flawless or internally flawless diamond if you don’t have the budget.
After all, you should always balance the 4Cs to get a diamond you like, not one that exceeds expectations on all levels. You’ll find yourself very limited on selection and stretched extremely thin on price.
It’s all about balance.
Fortunately, it can be done much easier with lab-grown diamonds and much lower pricing too. You see, very few diamonds in the world reach a flawless clarity grade on their diamond certificate. It may seem like a retailer has a lot in their inventory, but when you consider how many diamonds are mined as a whole, you start to realize their rarity.
But here’s the real deal. From diamonds with clarity grades of VS2 up to Flawless, most people can’t tell the difference when looking with the naked eye. However, under 10x magnification, yes, you’ll probably see inclusions on a VS2 when compared with a VVS2 diamond.
Most people aren’t going to see your lab-grown diamond engagement ring under magnification, are they? So, if you can’t tell and they can’t tell, is it worth the extra money? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but that’s for you to decide.
We recommend that you don’t go too high on the clarity scale since only prominent inclusion will be visible and impact the diamond’s brilliance and beauty. But, broadly speaking, VS1 to VS2 is a good starting point.
Learn more about lab diamond clarity.
The color grade of your loose lab-grown diamond is a visual preference. Diamonds with color grades of DEF are considered colorless, and diamonds with color grades of GHIJ are considered near colorless. Letter grades given to diamonds after that have a faint to light yellow tint in the diamond. Unless you desire the yellowish look, you generally want to stay clear of these.
Lab-grown diamonds with a faint to light yellow tint aren’t the same as lab-grown fancy yellow diamonds. They are also valued much differently. The yellow tint in a diamond is caused by the presence of nitrogen impurities in the crystal structure.
You won’t find as many tinted yellow lab-grown diamonds as you can with mined diamonds. That’s because lab-grown diamonds are created in a controlled environment and take less time to create.
The longer the impurities saturate the diamond in the earth, the more yellow it becomes. In a lab environment, scientists control how long it takes for the diamond to grow. So, it makes sense that more colorless diamonds are produced than mined diamonds.
According to diamond quality, colorless diamonds are more valuable and better quality. But the color grade of your diamond does not affect its durability. Some people actually prefer their diamonds at lower color grades, like JKL. The warmer-toned diamonds are a great fit for any gold-colored jewelry setting since these, too, will give off a golden glare.
We recommend that you start by focusing on near-colorless grades (GHIJ).
Learn more about lab-grown diamond colors and fancy-colored lab-grown diamonds.
Carat weight is the one factor that can significantly impact the price of your diamond. Going from a 1-carat lab diamond to a 2-carat lab diamond results in a significant price increase. One of the main reasons is that it’s harder for diamond cutters to cut a high-quality diamond.
The yield is significantly reduced from the original rough to cut a quality diamond out of a piece of the diamond rough. Diamond cutters must cut away from highly included diamond material to cut out the most prominent inclusions.
You shouldn’t expect two 0.5-carat loose lab-grown diamonds to cost the same as a single 1-carat diamond. In the same fashion, two 1-carat diamonds don’t equal the same price or value as one 2-carat diamond.
There are popular carat weight sizes found in many retailers, such as:
But if you have the luxury of shopping with a lab diamond retailer that offers a lot of different loose lab-grown diamonds, you probably get to choose the exact carat weight of your loose lab-grown diamond.
Ultimately, the carat weight of your diamond is entirely up to personal preference. Don’t feel the “pressure” to get a big diamond. If you want a dainty engagement ring, keeping to a 1-carat lab diamond would be better than going for a 2-carat diamond.
And if you do want a bigger diamond, there’s nothing wrong with that, either. You just have to understand how to choose a 2-carat or bigger diamond. If you do, you can find you’ll save more money and still get the diamond size you really want.
Firstly, you’re already at a considerable advantage when choosing loose lab-grown diamonds over mined diamonds. It’s easier to create lab diamonds in a lab than it is to mine quality diamonds out of the earth. Creating larger lab-grown diamonds takes a bit longer, but definitely not as long as mined diamonds.
Following that math and adding lab diamonds’ advantages in clarity and color grades, it is easy to understand why a 3-carat lab-grown diamond can be found at the same price as a quality 1-carat mined diamond.
With lab-grown diamonds, you can definitely get more bang for your buck in the carat weight department too.
Lab diamond grading reports
If you’re accustomed to buying your diamonds and jewelry at mall chain retailers, such as Zales, Kay, or Helzberg, you might not be too familiar with diamond certificates or diamond grading reports. However, some chain retailers provide certificates but charge more than they need for certified diamonds!
Nearly every online diamond retailer provides a grading report alongside a diamond or precious colored gemstone (emerald, sapphire, ruby). So whether you’re choosing a mined diamond or a lab-grown diamond, you should always buy certified diamonds that reputable diamond institutes have graded!
How much should a 1-carat lab-grown diamond cost?
Knowing that the cost of a loose diamond has several factors, there are some ballpark figures to give you an idea of how much a 1-carat lab-grown diamond might cost.
Lab-grown diamonds are recognized at a 60-80% discount compared to mined diamonds of the same quality and diamond grades. And if you can snag a deal on lab-grown diamonds, you might save even more!
Other nuances that affect the lab-grown diamond price include the retailer, grading lab, colored vs. colorless, and the diamond shape. Round diamonds tend to be the most expensive, mainly because they’re the only shape that can be graded Excellent Cut or Ideal on most diamond reports (and they are the most popular, too).
If the other diamond grades are lower, a 1-carat lab diamond can be as little as $400 or as much as $4,000. Lab-grown diamonds in mid-range grades, usually between $1200-$2000 for a 1-carat diamond. That is a lot more affordable (and reasonable) than a mined diamond!
Are lab-grown diamonds worthless?
If it’s your first time getting to know the world of lab-grown diamonds, you’ve probably noticed many anti-lab diamond articles claiming that lab-grown diamonds are worthless and have zero value.
That’s just not true.
First, anything you buy out of love and with intent for someone is never worthless. You should not invest in diamonds. Invest in the productive economy, which creates jobs.
But there’s a (hidden) reason these retailers say this. Actually, two reasons:
- They’re trying to push mined diamonds instead of lab-grown diamonds because that’s where the much bigger profit is.
- Lab-grown diamonds cannot be resold at pawn shops or cash for diamonds. Most places that sell them don’t offer trade-ups either. But don’t buy a (lab) diamond with the intent to sell it later.
So, do lab-grown diamonds hold the same resale or trade-up value as mined diamonds?
No. But they definitely cost a whole lot less than mined diamonds. And if you’re not planning to resell it (why would you?), does that monetary value outweigh all the other benefits of buying a loose lab-grown diamond?
Only you can decide that. But we definitely think it does!
Our recommendations for buying loose lab-grown diamonds
If you’re going forward with purchasing a stunning loose lab-grown diamond, here are some reputable lab diamond retailers we recommend purchasing from. They have the stamp of approval. Read below to find out why:
Ritani is one of our top-rated places to buy lab-grown diamonds, and there are good reasons. First, Ritani boasts the most extensive collection of loose lab-grown diamonds of any jeweler we have reviewed. And not only do they have the most lab diamonds, but they are also the best-priced!
You can customize jewelry and combine it with one of their low-priced, high-quality lab diamonds. You can easily search for lab-created diamonds that fit your exact needs or consider any of the recommendations that Ritani lists (often, you can find a cheaper and better diamond this way).
And it doesn’t end there. Ritani provides some of the best after-care services of any jeweler – for free. Want to save even more? Check if Ritani has any current discounts or diamond deals!
Learn more in our Ritani review.
James Allen dominates the online diamond industry in their prices and ease of convenience for online customers. In addition, they offer customers the option of choosing between thousands of ethically-created loose lab-created diamonds or (supposedly) conflict-free mined diamonds.
Narrow your diamond filters down to select the best lab-grown diamond that fits your budget and see what it looks like in over 200 ring setting choices. James Allen makes it super simple to create your dream lab diamond engagement ring, even if it’s your first time buying a loose diamond online.
And to sweeten the deal even more, all create-your-own engagement ring rings come with a free lifetime warranty that will take care of any maintenance for your engagement ring in the years to come.
Read more in our James Allen lab-grown diamonds review.
Clean Origin is a name that’s becoming increasingly familiar to online diamond buyers. However, unlike other diamond retailers, Clean Origin only sells lab-grown diamonds. So you can create your own engagement ring by selecting a loose lab-grown diamond and the perfect ring setting to go with it.
You can also narrow your filters down, though you’ll find they carry more lab-grown diamonds in the higher grades and carat weights. Still, they are very affordable and even have some of the rare GIA-graded lab-grown diamonds.
They also offer a Forever Service Plan, which is an added cost but covers maintenance for life. But what really draws first-time engagement ring buyers in is the Clean Origin 100-day return policy. This gives many people comfort in knowing they can have ample time to decide if their lab diamond ring is everything they’d hoped for.
Learn more in our review of Clean Origin.
Like our other two recommendations, Brilliant Earth also provides a large selection of loose diamonds. You can choose from a loose lab-grown diamond or their mined diamonds and sort them by the filter.
Brilliant Earth offers different ethical options for its mined diamonds but is still completely committed to those seeking a lab-grown diamond engagement ring. And unlike James Allen, you can also find ring settings crafted in lab-grown diamonds as well.
Find out why we recommend Brilliant Earth in our review.
Summary of tips for buying loose lab-grown diamonds
When choosing the perfect loose lab-grown diamond, we recommend going online. Many online diamond retailers have a large inventory of loose diamonds that you can view through a 360˚ viewer.
You can identify all the characteristics under magnification and compare features without ever leaving the comfort of your home. Or you can shop from anywhere directly on your phone.
There are many advantages to choosing a loose lab-grown diamond, but by now, you should know that not all loose lab-grown diamonds are created equal. We hope this guide has helped you in your quest to choose the best loose lab-grown diamond for your engagement ring and your budget!